São Paulo

Felipe Cohen, Untitled (detail), 2016, confetti, dimensions variable. Photo: Everton Ballardin.

Felipe Cohen, Untitled (detail), 2016, confetti, dimensions variable. Photo: Everton Ballardin.

Felipe Cohen

Felipe Cohen, Untitled (detail), 2016, confetti, dimensions variable. Photo: Everton Ballardin.

That alluring, fleeting, and familiar moment of sunset, when the sun seems to touch the horizon and dissolve into the west, when a soft light bathes one’s surroundings with gentle hues, was the subject of the abstracted landscape paintings on wood and wall-mounted mixed-media objects in Felipe Cohen’s exhibition “Ocidente” (West). This was a show of subtleties and nuances in artworks whose subject matter could be seen as mundane––a far cry from the overcharged and imposing aesthetics and subjects that define much of contemporary art today.

Despite an overall sense of receptive calm and familiarity, the individual works conveyed the tension of opposing forces and concepts. On view were fifteen paintings from the series “Luz Partida” (Split Light, all works 2016), made from several three-dimensional right-triangular wood pieces, their surfaces painted with layers of acrylic so sheer that the wood’s grain gave the images a light texture, and held together by a single wooden frame to form a coherent image. By choosing to use angular geometric shapes to portray nature––most of the landscapes are of bodies of water flanked by mountains––Cohen organized these spaces systematically, within an implicit grid, imposing order and a reductive aesthetic on a subject that so many artists have represented as unruly, emotionally provocative, elevating, complex, and sometimes even divine.

Consider the poetic yet apparently simple rendering of the sun setting on water in the construction Ocaso #3 (Sunset #3). A felt sphere stood on a sheet of glass that formed the top of a rectangular MDF vitrine, attached to the wall at well below eye level, containing the cutoff bottom of the sphere above it. Seen from above, the shape’s reflection in the glass created a wonderful optical effect—a phantom sphere that slotted precisely into the circular segment below. Ocaso #3 was an intriguing representation of the elusive sundown moment that dictated the mood and main subject matter of the show, demonstrating how Cohen’s choice of materials is as much about defining a medium as it is a way of commenting on his themes of choice. Also permeating the show was the dichotomy between painting and object. The woodcut nature of the paintings echoed toddlers’ puzzles and evoked a sense of interaction and three-dimensionality that the works frustrated. Constricted by the frame, hung on the wall, and coated with layers of acrylic paint, overall they “behaved” like paintings.

Cohen has always been deeply interested in the unexpected and sometimes contradictory behavior of materials, and such properties were present in one way or another in all the works in the show—most evidently in Untitled, a subtle site-specific installation of confetti set into holes in the gallery floor. I was surprised to happen upon the scattered disks as I glanced at the ground (many who went to the show must have missed them); they could have been the detritus of a party in the gallery. And yet it seemed as if these delicate pieces of faded colored paper had carved out a permanent place for themselves, as if they had the strength to sink into the terrazzo floor, in the same strange way that the sun seems to disappear into the horizon at sunset. Cohen, in evoking the fleeting nature of a moment that is familiar to most but different every time one experiences it, has found a powerful way to question and highlight the evasive nature of time and art.

Camila Belchior